The Optimistic Emanuele Farneti

The past, present and future of fashion communication 

Polimoda talked to Emanuele Farneti, Editor-in-Chief at Vogue Italia, about fashion media, the future of print and what he looks for when hiring someone new.  

For the third consecutive year, Polimoda has partnered up with Vogue Italia for the Master in Fashion Art Direction. For our students, this is a unique opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at the dreamy editorial world of Vogue, the most iconic fashion magazine of our time.

Thanks to this ongoing partnership, we had the pleasure of having a conversation with Emanuele Farneti, Editor-in-Chief at Vogue Italia since 2017, to discuss the current and future state of fashion media and discover what makes someone a perfect candidate for the Vogue Italia team.   

Emanuele Farneti in his Condé Nast office located in Milan

What can you tell us about Vogue Italia’s creative process?

Vogue Italia is about teamwork. The process of creating an issue starts with a deep conversation between me and the rest of my team, especially our Creative Director Ferdinando Verderi who is based in New York. During these conversations, we exchange ideas, go back and forth and eventually something takes shape. Then, we start adding different layers of knowledge and content to make the initial idea interesting in terms of fashion but also relevant to the larger world. Finally, we think about how we can use the different channels we have, such as print, digital, social media, or events, to amplify the idea.   

The White Issue, Illustration Issue and DNA Issue — the very first issue we did with Ferdinando back in July 2019 — are among the best results of this “layering process.” We wanted to discuss the DNA of a magazine because this was the moment of a restart for Vogue but also because DNA is a relevant conversation that implies concepts such as inclusivity and diversity. We added another layer by asking our cover models to take a DNA test while on set so they could understand where they come from and Karen Elson actually did it! On a larger scale, the discussion about DNA went to whether your life and destiny are already predetermined and written somewhere or if you can change it. And then we played around with fashion to embody the idea. In this case, it was with Louis Vuitton. When this process works properly and starts from an interesting idea, we have a lot of fun by adding different layers and contents.

When you exchange opinions, do you work with people from a variety of different backgrounds? 

That's a very good point. I do not come from a proper fashion background. I worked for different magazines, from architecture to sports, for digests and weekly news as well as men’s and women's magazines. 

I studied law and I have a more technical background in terms of building contents. Ferdinando studied philosophy, worked in advertising companies and ended up working in fashion. Some people from my team have worked for Vogue Italia for a long time like Brand Visual Director Alessia Glaviano or Deputy EIC Sara Sozzani Maino who has been here for about 20 years. There are many young members on the team who are very into fashion. When all of these different points of view come together, I think they make Vogue Italia different from a typical fashion magazine. And having many points of view is about having different backgrounds, as you said.    

Brainstorming is a very important part of the creative process at Vogue Italia. How did you stay organized during the lockdown? 

I wouldn’t say, from this specific point of view, that things have changed a lot because Vogue Italia brings together the best talents from everywhere in the world. While other Vogues have more staff, we are more about cherry-picking and coordinating people that live far away. In a way, we had already been putting together a magazine without always being in the same room a long time before lockdown. 

Of course, it is easier to have a conversation about the next Vogue issue when we meet, be that in the office, or during fashion shows in Paris or Milan. But with Ferdinando being based in NY and Sara traveling all the time, we often have remote conversations and conference calls from different parts of the world and time zones, but staying connected has always been possible thanks to technology. This helps us keep things moving even if we aren't based in our Milan offices so it was probably easier for us to adapt to the new circumstances. 

One of the views from Emanuele Farneti's Milan office

Over 268 million people around the world read Vogue and it is the most influential voice of authority in fashion. What are the pillars that ensure the authority of a brand such as Vogue Italia today?

Wikipedia defines Vogue Italia as the least commercial but most relevant fashion magazine in the world. This magazine has never been about huge circulation. It has always been about creativity and being outside of the fashion industry’s comfort zone. It has always been the place where the best people contribute even if they are not based in Milan or work full time for the magazine.  

I think that our DNA is a big help in this new world because we can be the magazine that pushes the boundaries and brings fresh ideas into the fashion conversation. Being able to connect fashion with different worlds is something that maybe you don't expect from some of the other Vogues but you surely do expect it from Vogue Italia. So pillars such as Contemporary Art, Illustration and a larger creative environment keep the magazine relevant. 

Besides, the combination of strong ideas and the Vogue Italia logo is very powerful. I first realized it when we released the Kiss Issue back in September 2017. The concept was quite simple but it went incredibly viral. We weren't the first magazine to feature a gay kiss on the cover but the fact that this concept was featured on Vogue Italia had a multiplying effect. The same goes for the White or the Illustration covers — they wouldn't have had the same effect if it was not Vogue. It is really powerful. 

A disruptive idea combined with the Vogue logo can still make a difference and we can still get a lot of attention in the media environment even if it is more crowded than it was 10 or 15 years ago.

Let's talk about the power of the Vogue logo. During the lockdown, there was a lot of talk about the malfunctioning of the global system and fashion system in particular. A lot of panel discussions were held, good ideas were vocalized and a lot of good intentions were declared, but the world won't and can't change overnight. What is Vogue's role concerning this change in fashion and beyond? 

I can discuss two elements of Vogue Italia's strategy.

Last September, we had a conversation with all of our Vogue editors and we agreed to do something special for the beginning of the new decade. We wanted to promote Vogue Values and sustainability was at the top of the list. Another green issue would have been disappointing and boring because it had already been done and we didn't want to greenwash anyone. 

So we asked ourselves if it was correct to ask people to do something without doing it ourselves first. And we came up with the Illustration Issue where we decided not to produce any fashion photography for once and donate the money we saved to a charity program. It was, of course, a very little and symbolic gesture because it was clear that we would continue doing fashion shoots in the next issue. But for me, the main point was this: before asking others to do something, we must do something specific ourselves, even if it's small. And we saw a very positive reaction from our readers regarding this message.The White Issue was created with a similar spirit; using an emergency to promote something didn’t seem like the right thing to do so we decided to remain silent and dedicate the most important asset that a magazine has — its cover — to a specific statement, even if this left some disappointed because it was an empty cover with no fashion credits. In the February Issue, we once again dedicated our most precious asset to the message. The cover featured Vittoria Ceretti and she was holding a panel and asking people to donate to Venice after the flood. 

In all three cases, we did something ourselves before asking others to do it. Do not expect other people to change before changing your behavior first. This is the first element of our strategy. As for its second element, there is a strong process of coordination between different editions of Vogue and it's a conversation that goes on almost daily with my counterparts. I think that if once in a while we make local Vogues speak with a single voice, this can really make the difference because at the very end, although there are a lot of other media and influencers, the power of Vogue in the industry is very strong. 

"I think that our DNA is a big help in this new world because we can be the magazine that pushes the boundaries and brings fresh ideas into the fashion conversation. Being able to connect fashion with different worlds is something that maybe you don't expect from some of the other Vogues but you surely do expect it from Vogue Italia."

Our information space is crowded and the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed that it is no less polluted than our environment. We have seen how fake news and the lack of reliable sources of information can undermine the stability of our society. What steps can be taken to sanitize our informational environment?

I might be too optimistic but I believe that with the deep crisis we are living right now, people are looking for knowledge and information from professionals who know what they are saying because they study and have expertise. You can see this from how involved the scientific community was in the conversation about the virus. It is not the moment to get news from everywhere and, although it is very early to say, my feeling is that after a decade of populism, unreliable information on social media, fake news and relying on opinions of people just because they have a lot of followers, this might be the moment for people to start carefully choosing their sources of information. Hopefully, people will figure out that this is important for our democracy. 

What sources of information do you rely on?

I have a lot of respect for institutions that still hire and properly pay professionals who don’t just cut and paste information from everywhere. I rely on big international newspapers such as The New York Times for instance, and some local ones too, because I want to get deep and be sure of the level of professionalism behind what I read. While speaking about the fashion industry, there are people whose opinions you can trust, but I don't want to mention anyone specifically. 

Emanuele Farneti posing in his Condé Nast office in the heart of Milan

It feels like trustworthy sources of information are becoming the new luxury. Vogue has always been an embodiment of luxury, a concept that has significantly evolved since 1892. Could you please define luxury as it is conceived by Vogue Italia today? How do you expect the meaning of luxury to change in the post-pandemic world?

The idea of luxury has been profoundly challenged in the last 10 years. For my generation, owning something is important while I see that for the new generations, experiences are much more important than owning things. It is more obvious now, after being locked in for 3 months, that when you rethink your priorities, you understand that what you missed the most was not buying something new but your relationships and freedom to move. 

That being said, I think that luxury — and I am not a big fan of the word luxury — but let’s say what will matter the most to people is knowing that what you buy is worth the money and that it is going to last. We are trying to explain new priorities to our audience such as quality, the process behind manufacturing and the preciousness of the possibility to own something for more than one generation. This is going to be more and more important. And I think Italy is in a good position because good quality items come from here and this is where we should restart from and rebuild the processes in the fashion system. 

So on the one side, experiences will be more and more important. On the other side, people will demand to understand if it is worth spending their money on what you offer. 

"I have a lot of respect for institutions that still hire and properly pay professionals who don’t just cut and paste information from everywhere. I rely on big international newspapers such as The New York Times for instance, and some local ones too, because I want to get deep and be sure of the level of professionalism behind what I read."

For those who would like to work for Vogue Italia, what are the qualities that you are looking for in the members of your team?

Number one is curiosity. When I interview people, I am always impressed by the quality of the questions they ask rather than by the answers they give. Curiosity is the cornerstone of this profession. 

Number two is passion. Today, you don't choose this job for the same reasons you would have chosen it 20 years ago. It's a different world and working for Vogue today is different than it was 20 years ago. You really need to be passionate about it. 

I love the idea of people being able to connect the dots. The layering process that I’ve explained to you before requires knowledge in specific fields but also the ability to see out of this field and connect various dots. This magazine needs both expertise and attention to the larger world

Details from the Condé Nast offices in Milan

Do you think your background in law has been useful in your current position?  

What has helped me has been working in different companies and different magazines with different Editors-in-Chief and CEOs. I can adjust when things change. People who were born and raised within the same situation are often less prepared to face changes. Being able to experience different workplaces and different jobs is something that I find very important because it makes you flexible which is necessary today.  

 A question regarding the future of print and the coexistence of traditional and digital media: how do you think roles should be divided to keep both print and digital relevant in upcoming years?

I think print media is still very relevant and I have several points to support this statement. The first one is a paradox. Back in the 90s, a new issue of Vogue Italia was read by some hundred of thousands of people. Today, every time we post something, we can reach up to 9 million people through different channels. I am not pretending that these are the golden years of print media but the magazine has never been as visible and somehow as relevant as it is today. 

The second point is the case of Wired Italia from 5 years ago. In Italy, Wired had a print magazine, a website and a very successful event called Wired Festival. While the event and the website were making money, the print was losing the exact amount of money the other two were making. An easy solution would've been to shut down the print version to stop losing money but luckily the company realized that what made the other two activities relevant and profitable was the fact that they were based on a platform of a beautiful and very well executed print magazine. So instead of shutting it down, the company reduced and resized the print and decided to publish on a quarterly basis. That reduced the costs and probably even made it profitable, while the other two activities demonstrated double-digit growth. I am pretty sure that if they decided to shut down the magazine, the other two activities would not have been profitable. 

So the point is to avoid simple answers to difficult questions. Every type of media has a different balance. I don't know if Vogue will be published 24, 4 or 6 times per year in the future and this conversation has been happening for a while. I do personally think that monthly is the best possible option. But you need to understand what your space is in this crowded environment and find the right balance between the different tools that you have. There is no single solution to all problems. 

This article is an excerpt from Polimoda’s long-form publication Almanac, an expanded catalog where courses and content collide to offer a comprehensive compendium of all things Polimoda. From interviews with cutting-edge designers to essays on the future of fashion, we will be featuring a selection of the Almanac’s most interesting visual and reading material in our journal. Author or the article: Olga Kurochkina.